NCF Nation: 081712 state of the conference

State of the Big East

August, 17, 2012
As our college football preview rolls on, today we take a look at the state of the Big East. Here is a quick evaluation.

State of the Big East: Average.

Biggest strength: Its coaches. There are some very well-respected coaches across this league, from Charlie Strong to Skip Holtz to Butch Jones. Each has pledged a commitment to stay. No coincidence that their respective teams were all picked to finish in the top half of the league. There are not many nationally recognizable players in this league, but there are nationally recognizable coaches, and that is hugely important.

Biggest weakness: Perception. While Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia have all decided to head for the hills, the biggest hit the conference took from a football perspective was losing West Virginia. The Mountaineers are a preseason favorite in the Big 12 and ranked No. 11 in the coaches' poll. Had they been in the Big East this season, they would be highly ranked as well. Instead, there are no Big East teams in the preseason Top 25, and the league faces yet another uphill battle for respect.

What can be done to make it stronger: Win big, baby. That should be the theme for this season -- getting one of the six teams that will remain in the Big East to run the table and serve notice that the league is thriving and surviving, thank you very much. "You need a team, whomever it may be, if they can make a run like that and make some noise, you’d like to restore credibility," Strong said. "If somebody can make a run, then maybe people will say, 'Hey, that is a league that is trying to get it back together.'"
Welcome to the State of the Pac-12 Conference. We here at the Pac-12 blog are proud to report that the state of the conference is strong. But we also know that there are those of you just joining us who haven't read every single post we've done. Shame on you, but we'll catch you up anyway. Here are a few storylines as we look toward the 2012 season:

Oregon-USC: The hype started with a failed Oregon comeback at Autzen Stadium last season. It grew when Matt Barkley declared he and his teammates had "unfinished business" -- not-so-subtly implying that snatching the Pac-12 crown away from the Ducks was a priority. It reached a high when both were projected (not surprisingly) to win their respective divisions in the Pac-12 media poll, which anointed USC as the 2012 champs. It will reach a fever pitch on Nov. 3 when Oregon travels to USC for the most anticipated regular-season matchup of the season. And that might only be Part I, as the two seemed destined to meet again in the conference championship game.

Quarterback carousel: There were five teams with to-be-named quarterbacks heading into the fall camps: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. Washington State hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel the starter, but your Pac-12 bloggers would be shocked if at this point there is a switcharoo with Connor Halliday. Three of those jobs are still up for grabs as of 10:30 a.m ET Friday. UCLA named Brett Hundley its starting QB a few days earlier than expected, and Colorado tapped Kansas transfer Jordan Webb as its guy after only three weeks on campus. All eyes are on the other teams to see who will lead them.

Talent at tight end: This might seem like a repeat, but your bloggers can't say enough how good the tight end talent is in the Pac-12 and how much of an impact these guys are going to make throughout the season. The conference has always been at the vanguard of offensive innovation and finding new ways for players like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Randall Telfer, Xavier Grimble, Joseph Fauria, Andrei Lintz and Colt Lyerla to get involved in the offense is going to add an even greater dimension to a conference already spilling over with talented playmakers.

Don't forget the defense: Yeah, they play defense too in the Pac-12. And when you look at four potential first-round draft picks coming out of the conference on defense: Star Lotulelei, Chase Thomas, T.J. McDonald and Shayne Skov -- and you consider the offenses these guys are playing against -- it's worth tipping a cap to the defenses around the league. Teams like Cal, Stanford, Oregon, USC and Utah all project to have very good defensive units that could all be in the top 25.

Who wins the Biletnikoff? There are six players from the Pac-12 on the watch list: Keenan Allen, Dan Buckner, DeVonte Christopher, Markus Wheaton, Marquess Wilson, Robert Woods. Oh wait, seven, somehow Marqise Lee was left off the original list. So who emerges from this group? Will it be Wilson and the gaudy numbers he's expected to produce by way of Tuel in Mike Leach's air-raid offense? Will Woods and Lee cancel each other out, or will both emerge as the top candidate? Allen is a star and might be the best NFL prospect of them all. Will he get the numbers in Cal's offense? Or does one of the dark horses have a chance to break through?

Every game on! The Pac-12 will enter the first year of its new broadcast deal with ESPN and Fox and the Pac-12 Networks launched Wednesday. The biggest news there, other than the huge per-school bump in revenue, is every football game will be on TV this fall.

State of the ACC

August, 17, 2012
It’s been a busy offseason in the ACC, with the hires of several new coordinators, a new coach at North Carolina, and ongoing off-field news at both North Carolina and Miami. With the opening kickoff just weeks away, here’s an overview of the state of the conference for those of you in need of a quick primer:

Best offseason news: College football is going to a four-team playoff starting in the 2014-2015 season, and the ACC won’t lose its seat at the table, as many had predicted. Instead, the ACC has put itself in strong position for the future with the announcement that Pitt and Syracuse will join the league in July 2013 (without any messy legal trouble), and the ACC will have a 12-year partnership with the Orange Bowl that will feature the ACC champ at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day, beginning after the 2014 season.

Worst offseason news: Another Yahoo! Sports story has further implicated Miami in possible NCAA violations, but this time, the integrity of coach Al Golden has been brought into question. The story alleged that recruiting violations took place under Golden’s watch in his first season. Golden has maintained his record of compliance, but declined much further comment, as the NCAA investigation is ongoing.

Worst offseason injury: Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown tore his right ACL at practice on Tuesday and is out for the rest of the season, leaving the Terps’ offense in the hands of true freshman Perry Hills. Barring something catastrophic, this is the worst news that possibly could have hit the Terps this summer. No other quarterback on Maryland’s roster has taken a collegiate snap.

Looking forward to: A legitimate national contender. Florida State is receiving the hype once again, but before you roll your eyes, use them to actually look at the guys who will be playing, not just their names on paper. They’re all freaks of nature, studs, the real deal. The defensive line might be the best in the country. There are no excuses for Florida State not to win its first ACC title since 2005 and play for something bigger.

Would rather not see: Another losing bowl record. Five straight losing postseasons for the ACC. The conference won two bowl games last season. Two. And it struck out twice in two BCS bowls -- the first time the league ever had two bids. Please, I beg you, no more ...

Teams on the rise: Virginia is coming off an impressive second season under coach Mike London, who was named the ACC’s 2011 Coach of the Year. NC State also has momentum from a strong finish last season, and could be a surprise team in the conference race.

Coaches on the hot seat: Boston College coach Frank Spaziani has the hottest seat in the ACC after a steady decline of wins during his tenure, but Maryland coach Randy Edsall is also feeling the heat after a 2-10 finish in his first season. Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh is also facing much higher expectations in Year 3.

State of the conference: SEC

August, 17, 2012
The watch is on around the rest of the country.

When will somebody other than the SEC win a national championship?

The SEC will look to extend its streak to seven straight BCS national titles in 2012, and the two teams most likely to keep that streak alive are the usual suspects.

Alabama has won two of the last three national titles, and LSU will also start the season in the top 3 of the polls after going 13-0 last season and then losing to the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game.

The SEC’s critics insist that it’s top-heavy and that it’s really a league comprised of two or three heavyweights and a lot of mediocre teams after that.

But when you look deeper, the parity speaks for itself.

Nobody has repeated as SEC champion since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998, and four different SEC teams have won national titles during the league’s current streak.

LSU received a blow last week when coach Les Miles announced that star cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu had been dismissed and wouldn’t play this season.

Mathieu was a game-changer for the Tigers, who will undoubtedly miss his playmaking skills on defense and special teams.

Alabama had to retool its defense after losing seven starters off a unit that led the country a year ago in all four major statistical categories. The Crimson Tide are also replacing their top rusher and four top receivers on offense.

They’re trying to become the first school to repeat as outright national champion since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995.

If it’s not Alabama or LSU mixing it up this season in the national championship equation, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina all think they could have something to say about who takes home that crystal trophy in January.

The Hogs say they’ve moved on from the Bobby Petrino scandal this past spring and are more determined than ever to break through in the Western Division. They get both Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville this season, but are 1-5 against those two clubs over the last three seasons.

Georgia and South Carolina have represented the East in the SEC championship game each of the last two seasons, although neither was very competitive in Atlanta.

The Bulldogs avoid Alabama, Arkansas and LSU in the West this season, which makes them the favorite in the East. They should again be outstanding on defense, but are inexperienced in their offensive line.

Defense should also be the Gamecocks’ strength, and if Marcus Lattimore is all the way back after injuring his knee last season, he’s the kind of running back who could carry a team to a title.

Looking for a surprise team?

The first part of Mississippi State’s schedule sure looks inviting. If the Bulldogs can start 6-1 or even 7-0, look out.

And in the East, the winner of the Florida-Tennessee game on Sept. 15 could give Georgia and South Carolina something to think about.

Where’s it all end?

If history is any indication, in Miami at Sun Life Stadium.
We're overlooking the state of each conference in the country today on the ESPN Blog network. Where does every league stand entering 2012? Here's what you need to know about the Big 12:

The favorite: Oklahoma. The Sooners lost a shot at the Big 12 title in the season finale against Oklahoma State last year, but they bring back QB Landry Jones and a handful of the team's best defenders. Jones needs to find more receivers opposite Kenny Stills, and injuries on the offensive line pose a few questions, but the Sooners are in the familiar spot of the team to beat entering 2012.

The new guys: West Virginia and TCU. Texas A&M and Missouri checked out for the SEC in 2012, but the Big 12 replaced them with a pair of teams who would have been in the Big East this season. The Horned Frogs, in nearby Fort Worth, and the Mountaineers, in far-away Morgantown, bring with them two high-powered offenses that should fit right in with their new Big 12 brethren.

The stirring giant: Texas. The Longhorns have won just 13 games the past two seasons. By comparison, they won the same number in 2005, the last time they won a national title. Mack Brown has revamped his staff with new coordinators and position coaches, and young talent is taking over in Austin. Texas isn't back yet from a five-win season in 2010, but this could be the year it starts making everyone take the Longhorns seriously again as a perennial title contender.

The up-and-comer: Baylor. The Bears broke through for their best season ever and the school's first Heisman winner. Robert Griffin III is gone and the 10 wins are in the past. Still, the Bears have a new stadium under construction and enough talent to get back to a bowl in 2012. That's pretty amazing. Art Briles is building something out of nothing at Baylor. The Bears look like they're in position to go to a bowl nearly every year moving forward after reaching their first bowl in Big 12 history back in 2010.

The guys with something to prove: Oklahoma State and Kansas State. K-State's got to prove last year's 10-win season was legitimate, despite the number of games won in the final minutes. Despite returning 17 starters and all the key pieces from a 10-win team, the Wildcats aren't even in everyone's top 20. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has to prove last year's Big 12 title was more than an accident or a one-time thing. They'll roll true freshman Wes Lunt out at quarterback to start the road back to a second league title.

Fighting to stay relevant: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders used to be the only team who could seem to beat Oklahoma and/or Texas with any consistency. Everyone feared making a trip out to the Plains of West Texas to face Mike Leach's band of pirates. Now? When teams walk into your home stadium and beat you by 60, it's hard to still be taken seriously. Coach Tommy Tuberville's been handcuffed by injuries, but he's got to get it turned around in Lubbock -- and fast. Fans are unhappy after last year's 5-7 campaign, the first losing season in almost two decades.

Trying to take the next step: Iowa State. Iowa State's cracked a bowl game in two of three seasons under Paul Rhoads, but did so just barely in both seasons, and needed huge upsets against Nebraska and Oklahoma State to make it happen. Iowa State's still trying to build, but enters 2012 with a quarterback controversy on its hands. The Cyclones were once again picked eighth in the league, but can Rhoads keep gaining momentum in Ames?

Trying to catch up: Kansas. The Jayhawks are just 1-23 in their last 24 Big 12 games, and the one team they beat (Colorado) left the Big 12. That stretch has included a whole lot of embarrassing losses for one reason or another, but former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is in charge now, with four Super Bowl rings and a renewed sense of purpose in tow. Can he turn it around in Lawrence after KU bottomed out following its Orange Bowl win to close the 2007 season?

State of the conference: Big Ten

August, 17, 2012
During's college football preview coverage this week, we took a look at the state of the game and the state of some of the sport's best-known brands. Now we're examining the state of the conferences. Here's the health report on the Big Ten:

Stability: In many of the ways that matter, the league has never been stronger. While the Big Ten initiated the conference realignment craze, it smartly added just one team -- Nebraska -- that has so far been a perfect fit in every area. There is no further need to expand at this time. The Big Ten Network, which debuted to scoffs and snarls, is a smashing success that's available in about 90 million homes with nearly 50 million subscribers. Ratings were reportedly up 11 percent last year. That network, along with other TV money and postseason revenue, helped the Big Ten distribute a record $284 million to its 12 teams this past year. That works out to more than $24 million per team when you factor in Nebraska's reduced share. Construction is booming on campuses throughout the conferences, and stadiums are full on Saturday. You could hardly ask for more stability than that

Prestige: Wealth and honor are not the same thing. The Big Ten has always believed in its own moral superiority, going so far as to call its divisions Leaders and Legends. But scandals at benchmark programs -- first at Ohio State and then, far more disturbingly, at Penn State -- ripped the sheen off the league's supposedly pristine image. Three of the league's signature brands are on some sort of probation -- Michigan is the other -- and, embarrassingly, only four teams in the Leaders Division are eligible to win it. Jim Delany points out that the Big Ten has had teams on probation throughout its history. But few scandals have caused more collateral damage than Penn State's, and the league is rightly looking into ways it can curb the unchecked power of star coaches on campus.

Competitive balance: There's clearly more to the Big Ten than just the Big Two. Michigan State and Wisconsin have announced themselves as powers, while Nebraska should contend annually and Iowa has had sustained success under Kirk Ferentz. Only two of the 12 teams -- Minnesota and Indiana -- failed to reach a bowl game in 2011 and the league continues to grab two BCS bids just about every season. There was a three-way tie for the conference title in 2010, while four teams were still alive for division titles on the final weekend last year and the Wisconsin-Michigan State championship match could have gone either way. The conference is so balanced that it's hard to imagine any team running through its schedule unbeaten.

National championships: You know the story. The Big Ten is still seeking its first national championship since the 2002 season. The league hasn't had a participant in the national title game since the 2007 season. That's bad. But while it probably won't happen again this year, the conference is poised to make a run at the big prize in the near future. That's because Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting like gangbusters. Wisconsin and Michigan State aren't going anyway. Nebraska has all the resources. Even with Penn State out of the mix for the foreseeable future, the league now has multiple teams ready to reach for the brass ring every year. And a smart strategy by Delany during playoff negotiations ensured that conference champions would be given strong preference in the future four-team structure. That means the Big Ten champion, more often than not, will be in that field. It's up to the league teams to play up to that level, but now they have better access and a deeper bench of annual contenders.